Hermlin, Stephan

views updated


HERMLIN, STEPHAN (Rudolph Leder ; 1915–1997), German author. Born in Chemnitz, Germany, the son of East European Jewish immigrants, Hermlin joined a Communist youth organization in 1931. He fled Germany for Palestine in 1936. Disillusioned with Zionism, he left Tel Aviv for France in 1937. After the German invasion he was interned briefly but avoided deportation. In 1943 he escaped to Switzerland. After the war he worked in the American sector of Germany, before leaving for the Soviet sector in 1947. In exile Hermlin had established a reputation as a poet, and during the 1950s he wrote paeans to Stalin in a Socialist Realist mode. He gradually ceased writing poetry, but remained active as a translator, editor, essayist, and author of literary prose. Examples from the latter genre include "Die Zeit der Einsamkeit," which deals with the humiliations of a Jewish woman in Vichy France, "Die Zeit der Gemeinsamkeit," one of the first attempts in literature to depict the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, and his semi-autobiographical Abendlicht. Hermlin also wrote essays about his postwar visits to the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto, and a poem dealing with Auschwitz: "Die Asche von Birkenau."

In part due to his persecution by the Nazis, Hermlin enjoyed a reputation in East Germany as an important cultural and moral authority. In 1996 the journalist Karl Corino determined numerous elements of Hermlin's biography to be exaggerations or outright fictions. In questionnaires, interviews, and his literary work, Hermlin, for example, had implied that his mother, an Ostjuedin, was a gentile Englishwoman and that his father, who immigrated to England in 1939, died in a German concentration camp. Hermlin had embellished his own anti-fascist activities, asserting incorrectly that he had been imprisoned in a German concentration camp and that he had fought against Franco in Spain. Hermlin died in Berlin.


W. Ertl, Stephan Hermlin und die Tradition (1977); S. Schlenstedt, St. H., homme de lettres. Gespräch zwischen Silvia Schlenstedt und St. H. im Sommer 1983 (1985); idem, St. H. Leben und Werk (1985); T.C. Fox, Stated Memory. East Germany and the Holocaust (1999); H.D. Zimmermann, Der Wahnsinn des Jahrhunderts. Die Verantwortung der Schriftsteller in der Politik (1992); H. Detering, "'Die Stimme im Dornbusch'. Jüdische Motive und Traditionen in den Exilgedichten Stephan Hermlins," in: I. Shedletzky and H.O. Horch (ed.), Deutsch-jüdische Exil- und Emigrationsliteratur im 20. Jahrhundert (1993) 253–69; E. Thiele, Literatur nach Stalins Tod. Sowjetliteratur und ddr-Literatur (1995); K. Corino, Außen Marmor, innen Gips. Die Legenden des St. H. (1996); W. Ertl, "Zum Fall Stephan Hermlin," in: Glossen, 6 (1996); M. Jäger, "Nachbesserungen. Zum Streit um Stephan Hermlins Biographie," in: Deutschland Archiv, 6 (1996) 845; A. Solbach, "Antifaschismus und Schuld. Zur Diskussion um Stephan Hermlin," in: Weimarer Beiträge, 45 (1999); G. Ohlerich, St. H. Verhältnis zur Arbeiterklasse zwischen Bürgertum und Sozialismus (2000); K. Hartewig, Zurückgekehrt. Die Geschichte der jüdischen Kommunisten in der ddr, (2000); A. Lamblin, St. H. et la France. Un poète allemand a contre-courant ou l'éternel exilé (2001).

[Michael Brenner (2nd ed.)]